Women in WACS profile: Te Riina Ward

I have been long waiting to profile a woman from our closest neighbour across the Tasman and am pleased to say we have now profiled women in every member country of the Pacific Rim chapter of the World Association of Chef’s Societies.

I met Te Riina at last year’s salon culinaire in Vanuatu, she showed genuine interest and charity in paying her own airfare to fly across to assist in judging and help organise for the event. Taking leave from her job as Head Chef in Wellington, New Zealand this single mum found time in her busy schedule to assist others.  In typical female form when I asked her to be a representative she looked at me with eyes that almost said “Who me? Am I really good enough?”

After having burnt herself as many times as the rest of us and having worked hard to reach the position she now holds, she’s a wonderful role model for women in the industry. A lesson to all of you lovely ladies out there — you have to ‘stick your neck out’ to be noticed because no one else is going to do it for you. Well done Tee and thanks for your support for others that really needed it.


Name: Te Riina Ward

Age: 38

Position(s) currently held: Executive Chef, Head Chef/Kitchen manager

Career Highlights: Being asked to judge at the Vanuatu culinary salon for both 2011, and 2012

Home Town/Country: Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Formal education: Diploma in Maori Design andArt Diploma in Catering and Hospitality City and Guilds


1. What made you decide to enter the culinary profession? My passion for food and the way it made me feel, and the joy it brings to others.


2. Culinary childhood memories (e.g. Who did the cooking at home? Did you watch or participate? Favorite dishes that you still occasionally prepare?)

My mother would always cooked for our family and being Maori, food plays a very important part in our culture and customs. My earliest memories of helping mum in the kitchen would have been when I was 6. She was preparing a traditional Sunday feast – a ritual for my family. I remember helping her with the stuffing, and my favourite bit was licking the bowl and spoon after she made the steamed pudding. It was always a battle between my youngest brother and I, but because I was bigger than him at the time, I would always win the big prize – the bowl (I gave him the spoon). My favourite dishes that I still prepare would have to be the roasts, with all the trimmings. Now I’m talking about pork, lamb, beef, the whole lot on the day. Mum always drilled it into my brothers and sisters that Sunday was our “family” day. So we all go around to mum and dad’s, and guess who was the lucky person doing all the cooking? My mum! Now it’s myself and my daughter  is starting to help too.

3. At what age did you first enter the food service industry? What was your first job? I started off at the age of 26 in the food service industry. My first job was working for Peter Thornley at the legendary Icon restaurant in Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand

4. What were important stepping stones to reach your current position? Working hard and committing myself to whatever came in front of me.

5. Did you or do you have a mentor? (Who is that person? How has s/he helped you?) Yes I do. Anna Barker who used to be my General Manager and now very good friend. She taught me the administration side of kitchens. She is also right by my side whenever I am unsure of things.

Mike Stringer, an ex-Executive Chef and another very good friend. He too showed me the paper work side of things. He’s always there for me for help and inspiration.

6. What, if any, problems did you encounter in your career? Trying to make it in the industry first as a female, then  secondly in a top position.

7. What, if any, was the greatest obstacle? Describe.

Working in an under-staffed kitchen, and going into the busiest time of the year.

8. How did you overcome that hurdle?

By having the help, support and confidence from fellow chefs, and mentors and knowing that as a team, we can work through it.

9. What is the male/female ratio in your current job?

I have a kitchen crew of 15 – myself and the head kitchen hand are the only females.

10.  Describe your current work conditions (including average hours per day spent on the job; do you work weekends/holidays? do you have changing shifts?) I believe in giving my all when at work. I average 50 hours onsite, and continue when I’m at home with paper work. I do work public holidays,   and only work the weekends if one of my seniors can’t. I have a Monday to Friday roster (the joys of being the boss).

11. Are you single, married or in a partnership?

In a partnership.

12. Do you have children? What age are they? I have a daughter, Olympia-maia who will be 10 in December

13. How did/do you balance child rearing and your career?

My family are first and foremost to anything else. I’m very lucky to have had both past and present employers who are understanding towards the upbringing of my daughter and also a supportive partner.

14. Did/do you have support (from your husband, partner, family, network of friends) while you raise/d your child/ren? Describe the kind of support.

My parents have been there for me since the birth of my daughter and right up to this day, always giving their full support. My partner has been the best support person, without this man, I would not be where I am today. He has given me the strength to continue on and reach for the stars. He has been right by my side when I needed a hand.

15. What is your advice to young women entering your specific field? The world is your oyster, reach for the stars. If you put your mind to it, anything is possible. Never give up on your hopes and dreams.

16. What are your interests outside the culinary field?

I love going to the gym, I also have a passion for kapa haka, that is the native dance of New Zealand. I enjoy all forms of martial arts and have a back ground in it.  I like longboarding with my daughter. I enjoy listening to music. It puts me in the right frame of mind for whatever the occasion

17. Do you manage to integrate those interests in your life?

Mostly the gym. I go at 3.30am before I start work. If I didn’t go everyday I’d probably go nuts. I was bought up doing kapa haka through my parents who are well known in this field. I have achieved the women’s leader award in regional competitions twice since being handed the reins from my mother to lead the kapa haka team. I longboard if I’m not working and it’s a nice day in Wellington. And music is always playing at home, work, and in the car.

18. What are personal and professional interests that you would like to pursue within the next 5 years?

Personal, would be to have one more child, get married, and own my own house. Professionally, I would love to travel and learn heaps more, and meet awesome talented chefs throughout the world. One day I’d like to have my own business and be right at the top of the corporate world.

19.  Would you be willing to be a mentor to other women in WACS? (If yes, indicate by what means: via email/SKYPE/a stage at your business if the woman seeking help provides for her own travel expenses, board)

Yes, absolutely! It’s not easy being a woman in a career that is predominantly a male industry. I have learnt in my life and through being a chef, that women are just as good as the guys in the kitchen. If I can help in any way, shape or form, I am available by all means. Email: tee007@xtra.co.nz Mobile: +6421 1227485